Talks between the Centre and farmers demanding a rollback of the three recent farm sector legislations, ended inconclusively on Tuesday. The farmers’ unions rejected the government’s proposal to set up a small expert committee to examine the three controversial laws .
The lines of communication between the protestors and the government stayed open , however, with both sides agreeing to meet again at noon on Thursday; farmer leaders were also asked to submit a detailed critique with their specific objections to the new laws by Wednesday.
The impasse on the ground continued, with several thousand farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, camped out on the borders of Delhi, blocking two entrances to the capital for the sixth straight day.
“We wanted the government to suspend the three laws while the negotiations are held, but they said that would not be possible. They asked us to stop the agitation, but our protest will continue. It will be intensified until our demand for repeal of the three laws is met,” said Darshan Pal, president of the Kisan Krantikari Union, one of the Punjab farmer leaders present in the meeting. “They wanted to set up a committee, but similar panels have not led to any outcome in the past,” he added.
Apart from the 30-plus Punjab unions which have already had two rounds of failed talks with the Centre on this issue, the farmers delegation included Gurnam Singh Chadhuni of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in Haryana, Shivkumar Kakkaji Sharma of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh (RKM), and Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), in a nod to the growing national nature of the protest.
Despite widespread expectation that the government delegation would be led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the team of central Ministers was unchanged from the last round of talks in November: Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food, Railways and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash. Earlier in the day, Mr. Tomar and Mr. Singh met with Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda to discuss the issue.
“The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere, and we listened to the issues of farmers. We are keen to resolve all the issues as soon as possible,” Mr. Tomar told journalists after the meeting.
According to farmer leaders, the Central Ministers took a less aggressive tone than during the previous meeting, when the rail blockade of Punjab was still in effect. Farmer leaders took the offensive by warning of dire consequences if the protest stretched on.
Once the rabi sowing season is over, the number of farmers at the dharna site will increase manifold, said RKM leader Shivkumar Kakkaji Sharma. “Farmers’ policies cannot be framed while sitting in rooms in Delhi,” he told Central Ministers during the meeting.
Noting that wheat, millet and paddy are already being sold below minimum support prices in his native Madhya Pradesh, he termed the three laws a death decree for farmers.
Veteran Punjab leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, who heads one of the BKU factions, accused the Centre of violating the Constitution to hand over the agricultural sector to its capitalist cronies. He vowed that the movement would remain peaceful, but could not be stopped.
Apart from repeal of the three Central laws, which they fear will end the procurement of crops at MSP rates, the farmers are also demanding a legal guarantee for the MSP regime and the withdrawal of the Electricity Bill, 2020, which could end free power subsidies for farmers.
Later in the evening, the Central Ministers also met with representatives from the BKU-Tikait group, who are protesting separately by blocking highways in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand.